A documentary film on Life and Legacy of Eadweard Muybridge



Every now and then we will post a new, specially chosen photograph from Muybridge’s vast catalogue.  It might be every few days, or a week, or a month—whenever the spirit moves us.  So check back periodically to see new additions.

JANUARY 8, 2024

Today, many millions of people in North America watched in awe as the moon blocked all or part of the sun.  Eclipses have always inspired audiences, and photographers.  The first known photograph of an eclipse was taken July 28, 1851 at the Royal Prussian Observatory in Königsberg (today’s Kaliningrad in Russia) by a daguerreotypist named Johann Julius Friedrich Berkowski.  Eadweard Muybridge photographed the phases of an eclipse on January 11, 1880.

SEPTEMBER 30, 2022

In honor of our Latin America premiere at the Festival Do Rio (Rio De Janeiro, Brazil) next month, we post an image from Muybridge’s Central America catalogue, produced over nine months in 1875 (working as Eduardo Santiago Muybridge). The exquisite collection of people, natural landscapes and colonial architecture captures the transition in Guatemala from a subsistence agricultural economy to one of coffee production for export.  This change, driven by government policies, caused many indigenous Mayan people to lose their lands as they became the labor force for large plantations owned by Europeans and Anglo-Americans.  As with much of his landscape photography, and later his motion work, Muybridge captures (and contributes to) a world in transition.  The Central America scholar E. Bradford Burns considers Muybridge’s photographs “unique documents of visual insight” and of “incalculable historical value.”  They are among his most haunting and powerful works.

AUGUST 15, 2022

On this day, 154 years ago, Edward Muybridge made landfall at Fort Wrangle (now Wrangell), in southeast Alaska.  He had hired on to a military expedition led by Major-General Henry W. Halleck, commander of the U.S. Military Division of the Pacific, to photograph military forts and harbors in the new American department.  As was his way, Muybridge strayed from the War Department’s directive to make many photographs of the native Tlingit people he encountered.  Muybridge’s photographs are the first made of Tlingit, and of southeast Alaska, and the first of anywhere in Alaska to be seen by the general public (the earliest known photographs of Alaska were made by another man two years earlier, but these were only for internal use by a telegraph company).  The voyage took Muybridge to Tongass Island, Wrangle and Sitka.  Below is one of the photographs he made at Wrangle, mislabeled as Fort Tongass. Photograph courtesy of Leonard Walle.  For more on Muybridge’s visit to Alaska click here.

AUGUST 2, 2022

In honor of our release on demand in the U.S. and Canada, we share an image of the original card announcing the “Premiere Presentation of Illuminated Pictures in Motion”, the first public movie based on live action photography.

JUNE 17, 2022

144 years ago this week, Muybridge produced a world-changing breakthrough.  On his patron Leland Stanford’s Palo Alto Horse Farm (land that is now Stanford University) and before assorted luminaries and members of the press, Muybridge made photographic sequences of galloping horses, the earliest surviving photographs of something moving faster than the human eye can see.  On Saturday, June 15 he photographed Stanford’s champion trotter Abe Edgington, followed four days later by his racehorse Sallie Gardner.  I split the difference by posting the photographs on June 17.  The photographs revealed horses moving differently than had been understood, and represented in art, prompting skepticism that they were authentic. In part, to demonstrate the photographs’ veracity, Muybridge invented a projector and began putting on public lectures that included moving picture shows of the horses in motion. They were crude, GIF-like movies but they showed the horses moving with their familiar grace.  These lectures were the first moving picture shows based on live action photography.  They astonished audiences and set the course for the later development of cinema.


MAY 18, 2022

Connecting dots between then and now, tonight Marc Shaffer will screen Exposing Muybridge and answer questions at the Carsey Wolf Center at U.C. Santa Barbara, and so we share a few relevant Muybridge photographs. The first is of the Santa Barbara mission in 1871, and the next two depict educational themes: a young woman learning music at the state aslyum for the deaf and dumb, and blind, in Berkeley, California, where Shaffer was born and raised; and a view of Young Ladies Seminary (now Mills College) in Oakland, where he lives now, both circa 1873-74.

APRIL 9, 2022

Happy birthday, Eadweard! 192 years old, today. A rare photograph of Muybridge, early career, enjoying himself while on a shoot in Yosemite. All work and no play makes Edward a dull boy.

APRIL 8, 2022

In honor of being selected to play the DocLands film festival, we share a photograph Muybridge made of San Rafael, California, home to DocLands.  This photo is undated, but would have likely been made circa 1871-72.

FEBRUARY 1, 2022

In honor of our selection to screen at the 25th annual Sonoma International Film Festival, the West Coast premiere of Exposing Muybridge, we share two photographs Muybridge made in 1871 at the Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma, the first ever made of winemaking in Northern California.  “Although the manufacture of wine is yet in its infancy in California,” Muybridge wrote, “in a few more years California will be one of the greatest wine growing countries in the world.”  Wine historian and writer Charles Sullivan called the photographs, “the greatest nineteenth century collection of winery and vineyard photos in the world.” In the first stereo view, note the Chinese man on the right. Chinese workers were imported to work on the transcontinental railroad and, after its completion in 1869, migrated to San Francisco and other places in the West, including Sonoma where they constituted an important part of the wine industry’s labor force. The second view is incorrectly dated “before 1869.”  The composition is typical of Muybridge, with figures photographed from behind often looking off towards a vista. This framing was motivated not only by Muybridge’s distinctive aesthetic but also to enhance the three dimensional effect when viewed through a stereoscope.


JANUARY 14, 2022

As we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr., and the continuing struggle for racial justice and equal opportunity, we present one of Muybridge’s motion studies from his magnum opus, Animal Locomotion, published in 1887 under the auspices of his benefactor, the University of Pennsylvania.  Today, the work is considered a masterpiece, but Muybridge had a difficult time finding buyers.  Spooked by the many images of nudes, the University set a high price on the work, hoping to prevent the unwashed masses from seeing the objectionable photographs.  It is often said, including in our film, that there is but one photograph of an African American model—Ben Bailey, “the mulatto pugilist.”  And it is true that Bailey is the sole Black subject among the hundreds of men and women photographed by Muybridge.  However, he is not the only African American to appear in the photographs.  In one of the better known studies, plate 626, Annie G., Muybridge photographs a horse at a gallop.  The rider, who is not identified, is African American. In the decades between the end of slavery and the institution of Jim Crow segregation, African Americans enjoyed enormous success as jockeys.  In the first Kentucky Derby, 13 of 15 jockeys were Black, including the winner, Oliver Lewis.  African American jockeys won 15 of the first 28 Kentucky Derbies.  Perhaps the most successful was Isaac Murphy.  Born into slavery in 1861, Murphy won three derbies, and in 1955 was the first jockey inducted into the sport’s hall of fame.


JANUARY 7, 2022

Today, Exposing Muybridge was accepted to the Sedona International Film Festival in Arizona.  In honor of the Native peoples who lost their lands, and more, to the colonial expansion of the U.S., we post this photograph of Shoshone Indians in Corinne, Utah.  Muybridge made this photograph, likely in 1873, while on commission for the Central Pacific Railroad—thus the titling on either side of the stereo view.  While Muybridge left few signs of how he felt about Native Americans, and eagerly documented their displacement, his images of indigenous peoples, as compared to the work of other Anglo photographers of his and later eras, are unusually honest and respectful.  Here, Muybridge departs from his typical aesthetic to frame his subjects staring directly towards the camera (and him).  It is one of his most narrative views, bristling with tension.  But what story is Muybridge telling? One of defiance, or defeat? Progress, or conquest?


JANUARY 1, 2022

Maguire’s Opera House. 1870.  Presented in honor of the new year, and looking forward to once again gathering together in theaters to watch opera, movies, concerts, and more.  Located at 618 Washington Street in San Francisco, Maguire’s Opera House opened in 1856 as the first theater in the city built for opera.  Before it closed in 1873, Maguire’s also hosted minstrel shows, burlesque, farce and melodrama.  This is a very rare photograph, one of only two we have seen in which Muybridge prominently features his horse-drawn photography studio, which he called The Flying Studio.  Muybridge was working with wet-plate photography, the technology of the time, in which he would have to apply a chemical solution to a glass plate, expose the plate, and develop the photograph, all on location.  Note under the show posters at lower right, he signs the photograph Helios, a pseudonym he would soon discard.  Of interest, a few years after Muybridge made this photograph, he married Flora Shallcross Stone, an attractive woman half his age who loved to go to the theater.  When Muybridge was away on photography expeditions, a handsome, charismatic theater critic named Harry Larkyns began taking Flora to the theater.  As scholar Marta Braun says in the film, “This spells trouble!”


DECEMBER 22, 2021

Mount Hoffman, Sierra Nevada Mountains. From Lake Tenaya. 1872.  Muybridge often framed a scene differently from other photographers.  Nowhere is this more evident than in this photograph of Mount Hoffman in Yosemite.  Other famed Yosemite photographers like the Muybridge contemporary Carleton Watkins, and later Edward Westin and Ansel Adams, chose vantage points and framings that produced powerful, clean and idyllic images. Westin and Adams, for instance, made photographs from this same spot, only they both chose to shoot across the lake to the right of Muybridge’s frame, out towards a dramatic mountain, seeing the scene so similarly that their photographs actually overlap.  Muybridge usually tilted his camera down, as here, to capture messy foregrounds, often cropping the tops of a landscape, leaving viewers feeling disoriented.  In Exposing Muybridge, we film from this spot with Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe, photographers and scholars who specialize in rephotographing historical images, many by Muybridge, and who have created a collage of the three Lake Tenaya photographs set against a modern panorama.  There is something else that is striking, and revealing, about the photograph: One of the rocks in the scene does not actually exist, but was added afterwards by Muybridge.  Can you tell which one?



DECEMBER 17, 2021

Screen shot from Exposing Muybridge documentary of Golden Gate, From Goat Island, 1870.  From the collection of Gary Oldman and Gisele Schmidt.  Goat Island, now known as Yerba Buena Island, sits in the middle of the bay between San Francisco and Oakland and today serves as the junction point between the two spans of the Bay Bridge.  In his landscapes, Muybridge often photographed subjects with their backs to the camera, drawing the viewer to the distant horizon. This was one of the first Muybridge photographs director Marc Shaffer saw that sparked his interest in the photographer.



DECEMBER 10, 2021

We begin with Contemplation Rock, Glacier Point. Muybridge was the fourth to photograph Yosemite Valley.  This he made during his second photographic expedition there in 1872. The stereo view shows Muybridge himself dangling 3000 feet above the valley floor.  Stereo photographs were made with double-lensed cameras and produced two side by side photographs that were nearly identical.  When placed in a special viewer, the images merged together to produce an optical illusion of a single three-dimensional image.  This photograph was presented by Muybridge’s defense attorneys at his 1875 murder trial as proof of his insanity.